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The Bucentaur (Bucintoro), the official boat of the doge

Updated: Dec 28, 2020

Canaletto was a Venetian painter who painted views of Venice in a very detailed and precise manner. He faithfully reproduced numerous glimpses of his beloved city.

One of his favorite themes was the depiction of Saint Mark’s Square and its basin. His ability to bring all kinds of subjects from buildings to boats, etc. onto his canvases was extraordinary.

Canaletto’s view of Saint Mark’s water basin

In this particular case he takes up the different boats present in Venice at his time. There is one in particular that stands out for its size and splendor, the so-called “Bucintoro”. It was used on special occasions and it belonged to the doge in charge.

Like many Venetian words, the origin and etymology of the term “Bucintoro” is obscure, but it is presumed to derive from the word “buzino d’oro”, Latinized in “Bucentaurus”, a hypothetical mythological creature similar to the centaur but with a bovine body. No traces of this explanation can be found as the term Bucintoro does not exist in Greek mythology. For this reason, this word is more likely to describe a lagoon vessel.

The 1500 de Barbari plan shows that the Bucintoro was kept at the Arsenale, in an uncovered area. Only later was its house built at the Arsenale to keep the boat dry.

The Bucentaur is represented in this detail

Several of those boats were built over the centuries, the last one is recorded in 1700.

Given its decorations in pure gold, the boat cost around 70.000 ducats, the equivalent of today 2 million euros.

It was m. 34,80 long, 8,35 high, 7,30 wide with two overlapping decks. On the lower deck, there were 21 banks arranged on each side with 4 rowers per oar.

The external sculptural apparatus was dedicated to mythology and it was linked to the marine world. The interior was formed by one room used to host the doge and his entourage. Unfortunately it was destroyed by Napoleon but some pieces that have been saved are kept in the Correr museum.

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